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Praying Preachers of the Past

There are many stories that have been told over and over about early ministers who were successful in having their prayers answered promptly and swiftly.
One of these men was John Collingsworth, a man I have been able to learn very little about, except that he was powerful in prayer.
Being a Virginian, it was natural that this man would have to battle wrath and hatred because of his hatred of raising tobacco. Anyone who knows anything about raising tobacco knows that hail is a great enemy of the crop. One time Collingsworth prayed that a hail storm would come and destroy the tobacco that had just reached the maturity to harvest. Surely enough, he "prayed up a storm," and all of the tobacco fields in the area where he was preaching were torn to shreds.
Preachers don’t ordinarily run into fighting trouble with their parishioners, but one farmer who lost his entire crop and saw little chance of clothing and feeding his family, came to the preacher for revenge wielding a vicious looking leather wagon whip. Collingsworth refused to back down. He said to the angry farmer, "If I can pray for a hail storm that has ruined your crop, then I can probably pray hard enough that something worse could overtake you."
The farmer put spurs to his horse and rode away. It is questionable whether the farmer gave up raising tobacco, since at that early time the U.S. government had not gotten into the fray.
Another preacher in the early days who was noted for his effective prayers was Rev. Robert Sayers Sheffey. This preacher traveled all over the New River Valley and gained a large following. He was responsible for the building of the Wabash Campgrounds in Giles County, and preached there many times. He wasn’t too selective what he prayed for or against, but many old worshippers of his time have written and spoken of the power of his prayers.
In one neighborhood, Sheffey learned about a liquor still that was furnishing drink to young and old, and it was having a bad effect on local churches. He looked over the situation, and noticed a large tree just above the illegal operation, so he included the tree in his prayer, asking the Lord to bring up a storm so violent that the giant tree would fall on the still and destroy it. To put it bluntly, it worked. Visiting on a farm in Pulaski County, the farmer was having a very hard time catching his horse to ride to church. Brother Sheffey fell to his knees and asked the Lord if he would tame that horse until the farmer could catch him. Soon, the farmer was on his horse and riding off to church.
The late E.P. Whitman liked to tell about the time in his youth when there was a terrible dry spell in the area, and Sheffey was preaching at the Thornspring Campground near Lee Highway. Whitman walked through the fields to the campground in his very finest suit of clothes. Brother Sheffey prayed for a gullywasher, and by the time Whitman was halfway home, his brand new Sunday suit was soaking wet. I feel like it shrunk to the point that the boy didn’t get much more use of the suit, but after all, it gave him another good story to tell his friends later in life.
It seems that no discomfort suffered by any living creature on earth was so small and insignificant that Sheffey wasn’t concerned. Stories are told of how he would be riding horseback through the woods, and he observed a terrapin turned up on its back. He would dismount and turn it upright.
Sometimes he visited his son, who lived in Lynchburg. Of one such visit, he wrote in his diary the following about the people in that city: "They have a way to catch flies on a sticky piece of paper, and I tried to get the dear things out and some would fly away and some would die and some stick, and I would pour water on them to relieve them but could not free them that way."
People also told of the deep feeling he had for his horse. They said that when he came to an unusually steep hill, he would get off the horse and lead it up the slope. It was almost as though he considered his horse another person, and that was probably because he spent more time with the horse than with any human being.
Sheffey was born near the community of Ivanhoe, in Wythe County on July 4, 1820. He died at the home of his friend, Aurelious Vest, near White Gate, in Giles County on August 30, 1902. The funeral was held at the Wesley’s Chapel, at Trigg, in Giles County. The church was packed with people, and there were many standing outside. They came from all over Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia, and the body was laid to rest beside the body of his wife, Eliza Stafford Sheffey, in the beautiful cemetery surrounding the church building. On his monument were the words "the poor were sorry when he died."

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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Praying Preachers of the Past

There are many stories that have been told over and over about early ministers who were successful in having their prayers answered promptly and swiftly.
One of these men was John Collingsworth, a man I have been able to learn very little about, except that he was powerful in prayer.
Being a Virginian, it was natural that this man would have to battle wrath and hatred because of his hatred of raising tobacco. Anyone who knows anything about raising tobacco knows that hail is a great enemy of the crop. One time Collingsworth prayed that a hail storm would come and destroy the tobacco that had just reached the maturity to harvest. Surely enough, he "prayed up a storm," and all of the tobacco fields in the area where he was preaching were torn to shreds.
Preachers don’t ordinarily run into fighting trouble with their parishioners, but one farmer who lost his entire crop and saw little chance of clothing and feeding his family, came to the preacher for revenge wielding a vicious looking leather wagon whip. Collingsworth refused to back down. He said to the angry farmer, "If I can pray for a hail storm that has ruined your crop, then I can probably pray hard enough that something worse could overtake you."
The farmer put spurs to his horse and rode away. It is questionable whether the farmer gave up raising tobacco, since at that early time the U.S. government had not gotten into the fray.
Another preacher in the early days who was noted for his effective prayers was Rev. Robert Sayers Sheffey. This preacher traveled all over the New River Valley and gained a large following. He was responsible for the building of the Wabash Campgrounds in Giles County, and preached there many times. He wasn’t too selective what he prayed for or against, but many old worshippers of his time have written and spoken of the power of his prayers.
In one neighborhood, Sheffey learned about a liquor still that was furnishing drink to young and old, and it was having a bad effect on local churches. He looked over the situation, and noticed a large tree just above the illegal operation, so he included the tree in his prayer, asking the Lord to bring up a storm so violent that the giant tree would fall on the still and destroy it. To put it bluntly, it worked. Visiting on a farm in Pulaski County, the farmer was having a very hard time catching his horse to ride to church. Brother Sheffey fell to his knees and asked the Lord if he would tame that horse until the farmer could catch him. Soon, the farmer was on his horse and riding off to church.
The late E.P. Whitman liked to tell about the time in his youth when there was a terrible dry spell in the area, and Sheffey was preaching at the Thornspring Campground near Lee Highway. Whitman walked through the fields to the campground in his very finest suit of clothes. Brother Sheffey prayed for a gullywasher, and by the time Whitman was halfway home, his brand new Sunday suit was soaking wet. I feel like it shrunk to the point that the boy didn’t get much more use of the suit, but after all, it gave him another good story to tell his friends later in life.
It seems that no discomfort suffered by any living creature on earth was so small and insignificant that Sheffey wasn’t concerned. Stories are told of how he would be riding horseback through the woods, and he observed a terrapin turned up on its back. He would dismount and turn it upright.
Sometimes he visited his son, who lived in Lynchburg. Of one such visit, he wrote in his diary the following about the people in that city: "They have a way to catch flies on a sticky piece of paper, and I tried to get the dear things out and some would fly away and some would die and some stick, and I would pour water on them to relieve them but could not free them that way."
People also told of the deep feeling he had for his horse. They said that when he came to an unusually steep hill, he would get off the horse and lead it up the slope. It was almost as though he considered his horse another person, and that was probably because he spent more time with the horse than with any human being.
Sheffey was born near the community of Ivanhoe, in Wythe County on July 4, 1820. He died at the home of his friend, Aurelious Vest, near White Gate, in Giles County on August 30, 1902. The funeral was held at the Wesley’s Chapel, at Trigg, in Giles County. The church was packed with people, and there were many standing outside. They came from all over Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia, and the body was laid to rest beside the body of his wife, Eliza Stafford Sheffey, in the beautiful cemetery surrounding the church building. On his monument were the words "the poor were sorry when he died."

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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